The art of transcription - of recasting music, more or less literally, from one performance medium into another - has been a common practice for a long time. A good transcription (or a paraphrase) tests the abilities and the imagination of the transcriber as much as the creation of an original composition. Trying to maintain the distinct characteristics of a given work, while meeting the demands of a new medium, are not always easily achieved. But in a world where the pursuit of stylistic authenticity has become the performance ideal, transcriptions and paraphrases have often been frowned upon by purists as tamperings or sacrilegious alterations with the purity of the composer’s original.
Recorded live at the Zurich Jazz Festival in 1980, this was America's first taste of the wild abandon that is the Vienna Art Orchestra and expatriate Lauren Newton's glorious vocal instrument. This is a 13-piece big band led by the beautifully weird compositional, instructional, and arranging craziness of Mathias Rüegg. They trash and revere all traditions – both historical and avant-garde at the same time – while using them both along with carnival and circus music, classical forms and fugues, and French salon music. They swing here like a Mingus big band playing "Jelly Roll, But Mingus Rolls Better," with soloists who could care less what the ensemble chart says and vice versa. Newton, mixed high above the prattle, soars with the intensity of a pianist while blowing Jon Hendricks away at his own game. The fun really begins when the ensemble changes tempos two or three times and sections play against each other as in "Concerto Piccolo," even if begun by the lilting line of the title's instrument.